Track by track: Fred again.. takes us through his mixtape with Headie One
Earlier this week Headie One and Fred again.. announced a joint mixtape, GANG. Originally conceived at the end of last summer and built around six studio sessions the pair spent together, the project grew broader in scope and bolder in ambition as Fred and Headie pulled in collaborators from their vast networks to create what’s sure to be a pivotal release in the evolution of UK drill.
The final project is out today and features contributions from the likes of former Crack Magazine cover star FKA twigs, Mercury-prize winner Sampha, controversial MC slowthai, Jamie xx, Octavian and Brian Eno – yes, you read that right. Sonically GANG sits between Fred and Headie’s world, the latter bringing his stoic drill flows and pacing to the mixtape, the former utilising his experience as a producer and songwriter for the likes of Stormzy, Charli XCX, MIST and many others to take Headie into new territory in a way that still feels organic.
We caught up with Fred again.. to chat about how GANG came to life. Here, he breaks down the tape track by track.
When did you and Headie first meet? When did you decide to work together?
I met Headie at the end of last summer and immediately just adored him, as a guy as much as a lyricist or anything. He’s got a good soul. We did six songs in six sessions basically, all in a few weeks. When you stumble on something that’s very instinctive you just jump and try and capture the moment.
We met and we made a banger for him and then we made this other thing. I’d made a beat that was super crud, drill shit but the bars Headie laid down were just heart. It felt like the beat was fighting Headie so we muted the music and I just started playing piano over his vocal and Heads was like “oh!”. I was amazed by how much I could just throw different things at him and he’d work with it, so I realised pretty quick this was a cool meeting of our worlds.
The sound on this tape feels like a natural evolution from Music x Road in some ways but totally different in others. What were you trying to achieve?
It was just where we met in the middle. There are tunes that feel a bit more him and some that feel a bit more me. I came back from Berlin and I’d been spending a lot of time in Berghain, so I’d been making all this aggressive 160 main room techno. I played Headie one of those tracks and he was like “yeah, safe, let’s try it.” Headie will just try anything. It was all that spirit.
How did you pick who to collaboratete with?
These are generally my friends. So they mostly came about from working with them. The track with Jamie xx came about because I had a bit of vocal from Headie I couldn’t figure out something for and he threw these drums down.
Octavian wasn’t even intentional. When we were working on Charades I left, by accident, Octavian’s adlib from another project playing. It was mad because at one point Headie goes “you’re a liar” and Octavian’s ad-lib is “liar”, but it’s from a totally different song. You can’t fight that shit.
Is there anyone else who worked on the tape that’s not credited?
My musical dad is Brian Eno. So through mad fortune, he helps me with all of my stuff and he helped me with this. He did a remix of one of the tunes as well. I don’t know if I’m blowing the cover there but I don’t really care. He called me when he was doing it and he was like “I think I need your help because I feel a bit like I’m a fish out of water here,” and then he played me it and it was sick. It’s mad what he made because it sounds like him but it also sounds like he’s able to dip into the sonic footprint of the tape.
The order the tracks are on the tape is pretty much the order that they were made in, so Told was the first thing we made with this in mind. There was something kind of powerful to me about pitching his vocals into the melody. You hear his lyrics differently. There are big silences between each of the lines so there’s time to consider it. It’s a statement of intent.
It made sense for this to be the title track because if there’s one word to thread the whole thing it would be loyalty. In the same way it’s a meeting between our musical taste, its also a meeting between our approaches. I put a lot of emphasis on brotherhood in my music and Headie does the same in a different way.
Also, I think there was something Headie and I liked about reframing that word. There are so many negative associations with it, to the point that you can’t say it on radio before a certain time. It’s treated almost like a swear word. Really, all it means to Headie is loyalty and brotherhood.
Interludes – Judge Me ft. FKA twigs, Tyron
We made a bunch of tracks and some of them made sense being two minutes. I like the way they pace the tape, it kind of slows it down. It’s a breather. Like a macro version of the Told lyrics, spacing everything out.
I played twigs Told and GANG and she was really moved by them and wanted to get involved. I’d made this sketch of pitching Headie’s vocal around that had loads of space and it just worked.
Shouts to J Rick as well. He helped produce this one. We’d already fucked around with pitching Headie’s voice but when I’d done it before I’d done it on my computer, we’d never tried him actually singing which we did on Charades. It felt like a natural evolution. He was hearing it back and his boy Ads was like “Heads, you sound like Mariah Carey fam!”
You can’t really tell because of the way it’s mixed but he’s speaking so quietly. He kept getting quieter and quieter until his voice was at the point of breaking.
Smoke ft Jamie xx
I was making something else with Jamie xx and we had about an hour spare – maybe like 40 minutes. He showed me this drumbeat he’d made before and I started playing those chords and that became the crux of it. We got together later to finish it but we had the core of it in about 10 minutes.
This one came out of what I was saying about being in Berlin. I just switched the snare so it was halftime and it seemed like it could work a bridge between drill and techno. It’s mad because a lot of bars Headie wrote [on this track] were about when he was last in or were written when he was last in and it’s become pertinent again.
Soldiers ft Sampha
The reason Soldiers makes sense as the last song is because we’d been through the other songs before and that this was the feeling we wanted to make and say. Often it doesn’t work out like that, but when it does, not to get too wishy-washy about it, it’s quite a spiritual thing.
We were having a calm chat over a couple of Guinness and moving the track around, it was quite a meditative vibe. We had some ideas for a hook and we weren’t sure where to go and then I sent it to Sampha. I told him what the song was about and he came up with: “Share my hands with you and let you help me.” That lyric is so beautiful and hits the marks perfectly. The tape is about loyalty and brotherhood and the fragilities that come with that. I love that it ends with Heads quietly saying, “The soldiers, the bravest, my family, most courageous, we march on.”
GANG is out now via Relentless Records